The Fallacies of Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence (EI), known at first as the Emotional Quotient, has been popular since Daniel Goleman published his book by the same title in the mid-1990s. Up until then, IQ was held to be the apex for excellence in everything; not just work.
EI turned everything on its head. The basic idea was that it mattered less how smart you were. What was really important was how much knew about your own emotions.
EI can be summed up like this: It’s the ability to “identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others”.
It requires three skills:
1. An awareness of your emotions.
2. The ability to restrain those emotions and to “apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving”.
If those things are true of you, then you can consider yourself to be emotionally mature.
Naturally, it isn’t that straightforward.
There are at least three problems.
1. Identifying your own emotions
The first problem is that it can be a challenge to identify accurately your own emotions. This is to put it mildly. Hardly anyone can do this. We rarely see ourselves as others see us. We tend to overinflate the good, and downplay the bad.
For example, did you know that most people believe that they have above average intelligence? We’re talking about how smart they think they are compared to everyone else. Most people think that they have more little grey cells than those around them. And of course we know that that’s not the case. The distribution of intelligence in a random population shows unequivocally that 70% are average – that is, that their IQ is 100. That’s the baseline.
If this is the prevailing attitude for general intelligence, which has been around for donkey’s years, then you can imagine how much less accurate the personal assessments are that people have on something that’s as ambiguous as emotions, which have been in the public domain for less than the lifespan of a foal.
2. Knowing isn’t doing
A second problem is that knowing what your emotions are, your propensities – good or ill – don’t in any way enable you to manage them.
For example, you may know that you have an underlying anger; not at anyone or anything in particular; it’s that you’re angry about something all the time. You don’t like it, and you wish it would go away. None of that, however, makes it happen. Exactly the same thing is true for all other emotions.
3. Dreaming doesn’t work
The third problem is that most people know what to do when they’re in a sterile environment. In other words, if you ask them to choose what is and what isn’t intelligent behaviour, outside the realm of where it will occur, nearly everyone will pick the “right” answers – whatever they are.
This is one of the problems with some psychometric tests, particularly those that ask you what you are like. Just as most people think they are more intelligent than everyone else, they also think that they would demonstrate greater emotional intelligence than they actually do when they’re put under pressure.
Who, for example, would admit that they routinely lose control of their emotions at work? If you were clinically depressed and you knew it, then you might; but for most people, there would always be mitigating circumstances for those instances that they remembered, and they’d probably forget most of the rest of the times when it happened.
How to bridge the gap
So how do you bridge the gap? How do you go from having a nice theory to actually putting it into practice?
· The first thing to do is to admit that there are differences, probably big ones, between what you think is true of yourself and what actually is. If you’re unwilling to do that, then you’ll just keep on lying to yourself. You have to be honest from the outset.
· You also have to be candid. Make a list of your “best” emotions and your “worst”. Write down some examples of when you exercised both to support your assertions.
· The third thing is to get feedback from a colleague. Take your list with you and discuss it. Get that person’s objective opinion. If you have access to more than one person that you can trust, then talk to him or her, too. The more; the merrier.
· Then get a coach to help you work on a playbook for what to do when you face those issues where you’re weakest.
· The last thing is to “rehearse” those plays. Practice them in your head. Read them every day. Meditate on them. Think about how you can incorporate them into your everyday life.
If you do these things, then there will come a time when they become second nature.
Everyone is different. It may take a few weeks or a few months for you to start seeing meaningful changes. Don’t give up. Hang in there. You’ll be glad you did.
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